Keeping audiences engaged with effective storytelling

4 minute read

Upland Admin

Photo credit: Shutterhacks

Using storytelling to sell a product, brand or service isn’t in any way a new concept. The developing technology around us however, has given us new ways in which to engage and interact with our audience.

Content marketing has become increasingly important as brands realize that in order to speak to their customers they need to invest in content that matters. The more brands have begun to focus on quality content, the more it becomes clear that storytelling is a key component to the content marketing process.

You wouldn’t (willingly) sit through a terrible film, or keep reading a book that you thought had a terrible plot, so why should people read your content if it doesn’t have  a good story behind it?


Don’t feel that you have to make up a story on the spot either. Everything is fodder for a good story; it all depends on how you tell it. Take Bill Strawderman’s slides from the Content Marketing Bootcamp in Boston held in June. His presentation featured a case study on how rethinking a brand’s content strategy produced great results. Why was it so compelling? Because he turned what can be a usually dry source of information into a well-structured story.

He presented attendees (now, anyone flipping through the presentation on SlideShare) with a beginning and middle that make you want to discover what happens at the end. It’s a timeless structure that helps an audience follow and engage with the content. Check out the slides for yourself below:

Tall Tales

Netflix co-founder Reed Hasting’s apparently tells people that the company came about because he had a huge embarrassing late-fee for not returning a VHS. According to Hastings, this got him thinking about a mail-based film-rental service. After mailing some CDs to himself, which arrived in good condition, the idea behind Netflix was born.

This is one of those business start-up tales that sounds almost too good to be true, but maybe that’s because it’s fake. The other co-founder behind Netflix, Marc Randolph, has previously stated that this story was partially fabricated in order to explain how the business works.

So should users feel betrayed and lied too? Well… no not exactly. Brand transparency is crucial, and although this story is fictional, it does provide users with a relatable tale that explains exactly how the company works. They’ve also been quite clear in stating that the tale is false. Netflix haven’t tried to make it stick, or force a misconception on their audience.

The Netflix founding story is a good one, and even though it’s a fabrication, it doesn’t change the fact that stories work. Every brand has a story (or two) to tell; if not their own, then why not those of their customers and other everyday heroes?

Utilizing Emotions

People engage with good content, on both an informative and an emotional level. Crafting a story from your content is a fantastic way of drawing people in and getting them emotionally invested.

Brands can either use their content to tell a new story, or reflect an already established tale in a new creative way. Common household brand Procter & Gamble has established themselves as the “proud sponsor of mums.” This tagline holds a lot of weight, as it gives them the opportunity to create a wealth of mother and family-related content. Content that’s deeply linked to emotions.

One particular advertisement that struck an emotive chord with the masses is their ‘Thank You Mom’ campaign that ran through the 2012 Olympics. The advertisement showed several mums from across the world raising and supporting their Olympic athletes, from a child to fully grown adult.

It’s a relationship that everyone can relate to and a story that we all know and love, and when it’s told in a creative manner, it can bring about amazing results. It’s estimated that the campaign has generated $500 million in sales, and the campaign’s Facebook page alone has 795,191 likes, with 8,436 people still talking about the topic (at the time of writing).

To summarize, give your narrative a clear and concise structure, and draw from real life inspiration to engage your audience with compelling and heartfelt storytelling.

Do you have any tips for crafting a great story? Is there any particular campaign story that you remember fondly? Let me know in the comments section below.

Harry Gardiner is a Content Marketing Executive at UK Digital Marketing Agency Koozai. A complete geek with a love for all things digital; when he’s not scouring the web for great content ideas he likes settling down with a cup of coffee and a great film.



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